What If You Had To Grow Your Food Indoors?

So there I was, toiling away in garden #3, getting my tomato and pepper transplants tucked in, and my mind wandered a bit. It takes a LOT of ground to produce enough food to meet even modest food goals. I am usually thinking about the prices of vegetables versus the space they take in the garden (feet squared). Not that it’s the only criteria, there are things I grow just for the pleasure of growing them. I wondered though if the thinking would have to change if one had to grow solely indoors for some reason.

I wouldn’t be able to trade large amounts of space for large harvests. Instead I would need varieties that produced lots of vitamins per inch. And crops that don’t need large amounts of light or heat to mature.

Fruits and flowers take more energy for the plant than roots and leaves. Mature seeds take even more than fruits and flowers, i.e. grains, or dried beans. So you have to stick to the low energy forms of edibles, the leaves and sometimes roots.

Let’s say you have a large sort of living room window, and it’s the perfect big window, facing South. Put up as many plant shelves as possible, leaving room obviously for the plants to grow. I would focus on things like lettuces, smaller kales, spinach, sprouts and radishes. Herbs too, basils, oregano, chives and cilantro.

None of those things, with only a window’s worth is going to make a complete diet, but if you can get in 3 rounds of planting on most of the shelves, you can have a lot of fresh food for side dishes.  Most of the crops I mentioned are fast growing enough you could do it.

They could also stretch and improve the ready-made survival type foods that you could be living on if all food is being grown indoors. Pasta dishes could use the herbs and perhaps some wilted greens. Stir fry dishes could incorporate any and all. Soups could have herbs and greens added.

Things you would need to have on hand to pull it off gracefully:

  • Shelving
  • Seeds, lots of seeds. 3 succession plantings, or more like 6 for the sprouts, means a TON of seeds. The sprouting seeds are usually sold by the pound.
  • Some liquid fertilizer, since you won’t have any natural forms of fertility.
  • Unless you also put a fish tank in series with the shelves and use fishy water to water the vegetables, but that’s advanced level food growing.
  • Fats to serve with the greens, either as a salad dressing or as a cooking oil.
  • Growing medium, whether it’s dirt or potting soil or some sort of hydro setup.

What do you think? Anybody mused about this one? Did I miss a good variety to grow in that situation?  Sound off in the comments!

– Calamity Jane

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16 comments… add one
  • Kate in Colorado May 29, 2014, 9:23 am

    This is a subject near and dear to my heart. I have spent the last several winters working on “gardening” indoors and have found it a facinating and somewhat complicated process. This is one area of expertise that must be practiced over and over as the variables will drive you nuts!
    The biggest problems are what you would expect. Light, temperature, watering needs, and a whole host of other variables are like shuffleing a deck of cards. Most of us do not have a greenhouse and every home has it’s own restrictions that must be factored into the whole process. That being said, there is special satisfaction of harvesting a juicy fresh tomato, or enough green beans for a side dish, or my favorite, picking a lemon to to tickle my taste buds on a fridge afternoon!
    If there is any interest, I would be happy to share some of the things that I work on every winter.

    Reply
    • Granny C May 29, 2014, 12:48 pm

      It would be of great interest to me since I am 78 and mostly housebound, so my gardening outside is limited. I do have one south facing window. I would appreciate any hints or ideas you would be willing to share.

      Reply
      • Kate in Colorado May 30, 2014, 5:45 pm

        Hi Granny C!

        I usually grow my plants in mini greenhouse in my kitchen and living rooms. I use inexpensive “grow lights” and make sure that I watch the temperatures inside the greenhouses stay in the 65 to 75 degree range. Many of us keep our homes cooler in the winter. I live at 60 degrees in the winter and so I must keep my plant friends a little warmer with the lights. I use easy to grow plants such as many types of greens, radishes, green beans, kale, and the like. My tomato plants live in the kitchen where I keep the tempertures at 65 to 68. I use big pots and plenty of good soil, use a watering meter to let me know when roots are drying out. It’s easy to over water in the winter due to having lower temps. If my plants bloom, I make sure I hand pollinate the flowers with a clean small paint brush. Start with easy , quick growers and pratice! Best of luck!

        Reply
  • Pineslayer May 29, 2014, 10:01 am

    I think in the short term it would be possible, but long term fertilizer would be worth its weight in gold. I am going with the doomsday scenario here. We can’t grow much outside due to catastrophic weather problems or miniature zombies that have a taste for veggies. Aquaponics sounds like a great solution, just need to have enough power to circulate the water. How about turnips as a indoor crop? Mushrooms?

    Reply
    • Carolyn May 29, 2014, 7:29 pm

      Clover can be grown indoors as a “fertilizer”.
      I have had great success sowing a planter with clover, letting it grow until it’s about 2″ high, then cutting it all up fine with scissors. Let that lay there on the soil for a few days, then take a fork from the kitchen, yes, you read that correctly and “plowing” it all under the soil. Let all that sit as is for a couple of weeks, don’t touch it. Then you can use that planter. Because the clover is a legume, the roots trap nitrogen, good for the soil. Heavy feeders love soil prepped this way, and it’s safe to do around kids, dogs and the occasional elderly parrot!
      You can read more here,
      http://www.agriculture.gov.sk.ca/Default.aspx?DN=4b50acd7-fb26-49a9-a31c-829f38598d7e

      Reply
  • Badger359 May 29, 2014, 11:03 am

    Hydroponics have always fascinated me. My first exposure to hearing the term was when I was a kid watching “Lost in Space” in the mid 60’s. The science is sound, but I wonder if you can grow (root veg). I am considering it for salad material on a experiment level come this fall.

    Reply
  • Cliffystones May 29, 2014, 1:29 pm

    Something very important, but not yet mentioned. Cleanliness. I’m starting my second batch of Siberian Tomato seedlings after the first was wiped out by the screwball Colorado weather 2 weeks ago. Just this morning I noticed a small, white fuzzy patch in one of the seedling pots. Some variety of mold, I’m sure. But when gardening indoors that mold could become airborn spores. Then you and your family are breathing that stuff in, especially when it’s too cold outside to open up windows. Probably not what most indoor gardenres are shooting for. So being mindful of the indoor garden area and taking steps to ensure the “dirt’ doesn’t get spread around to non-garden areas of your home should be a high priority task, IMO.

    Reply
  • sput May 29, 2014, 6:22 pm

    Aqua culture. Nice, closed system. If you have the space and the ability to set it up. And the money, lol.

    Reply
  • Steve suffering in nj May 29, 2014, 7:07 pm

    How about sprouts? Not really growing veggies per say, but super easy and very good for you. I have bulk stores for emergency supplies.

    I use a canning jar with holes punched in the top. Rinse and drain the seeds a few X per day. In a week or so you have a quart jar of sprouts.
    No soil, no sun, reasonable indoor temps and the water you rinse with is still for for consumption.

    Reply
    • Calamity Jane May 30, 2014, 1:24 pm

      Yup Sprouts made my list. I love the big bean sprouts, all the way down to the tiny arugula sprouts. They’re all good, and super healthy for their space needs.

      Reply
  • Sheila May 29, 2014, 11:01 pm

    Have you ever looked at the tower garden made by Juice Plus? One garden can feed a family of four and it grows indoor or outdoors, can grow year round if you tend it! We planted our seedlings a little less than a month ago and have enjoyed five salads from it already this season! More growing … hydroponic, clean, organic seedlings!
    You can find pictures and more on my website … sheilarae2.towergarden.com or sheilarae2.juiceplus.com

    Reply
  • irishdutchuncle May 30, 2014, 4:19 am

    … we’re going to starve.

    Reply
    • Calamity Jane May 30, 2014, 1:42 pm

      Yes, if you are in a position where the only food you have, is what you grow indoors, you’ll starve. BUT, if you have some stored foods, and you only need to add nutrition and tasty-ness to them, it’s a doable goal.

      Reply
  • gat31 June 2, 2014, 11:19 pm

    l tried as an experiment growing in the house. l took everything out of my closet 10′ by 3′ and turned it into my “grow room”. l hung grow lights on lines so l could move them up as the plants grew. l grew tomatoes and green peppers. l also grew them in december to march which is out of season time.
    The hardest part was getting the green peppers to sprout because the seeds have to be warm to sprout. l bought a turkey roasting pan with the plastic lid, stuck the seeds in there and put it in the back window of my car for a couple days til they sprouted.
    As for my growing medium? That was easy l used coffee grounds. Well at least to sprout the seeds in. As they started to get bigger, l used my worm dirt (yes was also growing composting worms) and mixed it with the grounds to grow in. l wanted to be able to grow inside in case outside was not an option. l used minimal water and once a week l made composting tea from the worms to give the plants extra nutrients.
    Since this experiment l have seen many things l could have done better, used to expand my space, etc., but overall l was happy in the experiment. Makes me sleep a little easier knowing l could grow in house if l had to.
    As a side note, for those of you who live in colder climates, if you used something like a closet, a spare room, what have you, l was thinking a small rotating heater could also help with the warmer temps needed for some of the plants.

    Reply
  • Preacher June 3, 2014, 8:54 am

    Aqua-ponics
    The combination of agriculture and fish. The fish produce waste. Cycle the water loaded with nitrates through the grow beds full of pea gravel or some other medium like famiculite (sp), and return it to the fish. I always thought of a kids pool full of crawfish and gold fish in the center of a set up would be very effective. Check out the youtube videos on the subject. I find it fascinating. TW

    Reply
  • late2theParty June 12, 2014, 12:36 pm

    In thinking about SHTF settings, I’ve read of people having lost a whole garden to thieves. I imagine if food became too expensive, anything outside (in suburbs) would be ‘fair game’ for ‘grazing.’ So my reason for thinking of indoor/hydroponics/aquaculture, is food security from theft.

    I’ve only started the indoors setup; pumps, small aquariums, tubing. Need to buy starter filters*, aerators, also to make the plant tray and buy the fish. Hope to get it together soon. When all ready will post results.

    If power is at a premium, anyone thinking of mirrors/reflectors for inside plants?

    * from what I read, it takes a while for the bacteria to stabilize so using filters and aerators till they are fully going (the plants and bacteria) might save your fish. Still haven’t decided, tilapia or catfish.

    Reply

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